Monday, January 9, 2012

Ecuador’s Appellate Court Upholds $18 Billion Judgment Against Chevron

Leading Oil Industry Analyst Says Chevron Should Settle
Other Analyst Says Chevron Is Hiding Its Liabilities In Ecuador & Elsewhere

Based on an overwhelming amount of scientific evidence, Ecuador’s appellate court last week upheld the $18 billion judgment against Chevron for oil contamination in the country’s rainforest.

Immediately following the ruling, the oil industry’s leading analyst, Fadel Gheit, told the Financial Times the lawsuit isn’t going away and the oil giant should settle.

In a January 5th article in the Financial Times, Gheit, an analyst at Oppenheimer in New York, said Chevron should end its misery and pay $2 to $3 billion in a settlement.

He said, “When the dog keeps on barking and barking, eventually you have to throw it a bone.”

We assume Gheit meant no insult by referring to the Ecuadorian plaintiffs as a “dog.” Whether or not a $2 to $3 billion settlement would be enough remains to be seen.

Here and here is more information about the evidence against Chevron and the appellate court’s ruling.

Meanwhile, Chevron continues to withhold the extent of its financial liability not only in Ecuador but also in other parts of the world., a socially responsible investing web site, reports that Chevron refuses to deal with its terrible corporate governance history and human-rights problems.

Importantly, Chevron also isn’t coming clean to shareholders about its potential liability in pollution lawsuits against it.

Consider an incident in Burma, says Larry Dohrs of Newground Social Investment, a socially responsible money manager. Just before Chevron acquired Unocal in 2005, 13 Burmese plaintiffs won an out-of-court settlement against Unocal that was reputed to be $2.5 million per plaintiff.

And, there may be 5,000 more Burmese plaintiffs out there, Dohrs says. Were they to bring a class-action suit, damages could run into the billions of dollars.

However, Dohrs writes, “even the potential amount of that claim pales,” compared to Chevron's liability in Ecuador, with the $18 billion judgment staring it in the face. Chevron dumped billions of gallons of waste byproduct and oil into the water and soil and burned hundreds of millions of cubic feet of gas and waste oil into the atmosphere.

Chevron, reports, tells investors it will ultimately prevail and there’s nothing to worry about. 

That doesn’t add up for the critics. “To continue to say there is no merit and we're not going to end up paying anything is a completely unrealistic approach for management," Dohrs said. "But that continues to be the story they tell shareholders. We're very worried that that's not accurate." 

As evidence, Dohrs cites Chevron Deputy Comptroller Rex Mitchell, who said in a court affidavit if plaintiffs seized company assets to pay damages, it “would disrupt Chevron's supply chain and operations” and “damage Chevron's business reputation as a reliable supplier.” 

Mitchell's statement was revealed last year in a report by Simon Billenness and Sandford Lewis.

As a result, Trillium Asset Management, a $1 billion asset management firm, asked the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in May to review "whether Chevron has appropriately disclosed to shareholders the scope and magnitude of financial and operational risk from a recent adverse legal judgment in Ecuador." 

Now Chevron faces fines and lawsuits from a November spill off the coast of Brazil that could run to additional billions of dollars and criminal prosecutions.

When is Chevron going to come clean environmentally? And when is it going to come clean with its shareholders?